Medical experts agree that between the anesthesia and the surgical procedure itself, the latter generally poses much more risk than the former. However, while general anesthesia is overall very safe, there is a risk of complications and side effects.
According to the Mayo Clinic, though complications of anesthesia are rare, they can be very serious. Patients may experience life-threatening conditions of heart attack, stroke, postoperative pneumonia or anaphylactic shock as a result.
What are the risk factors for anesthesia complications?
Patients may be at increased risk if they have a personal or family history of anesthesia complications or drug allergies. Certain underlying medical conditions can also increase the risk. These include diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity and sleep apnea. People who smoke may be at greater risk, as well as those who take medications that can cause bleeding, such as aspirin or warfarin.
How can patients manage the risk?
Prior to a surgical procedure involving general anesthesia, a doctor usually provides the patients with preoperative instructions. These often include cautions to avoid eating for some time prior to the surgery to avoid aspiration pneumonia. WebMD advises patients to follow these instructions carefully and ask their doctors to explain any that they do not understand. They should also inform their doctors any personal or family history of bad reactions to anesthesia.
Local or regional anesthesia may be alternatives to general anesthesia. Patients with concerns can ask their doctors whether one of these may be an option. It may also be a good idea for patients to meet with the team that will be administering the anesthesia before the procedure, if possible.